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How to Rivet Leather – Step by Step Guide to Setting Rivets

Joining leather in various ways is the key to making all sorts of useful projects. Beyond sewing, I was interested in learning about what hardware options are available and learned how to rivet leather.

Riveting leather involves creating a hole, inserting the rivet post, securing the rivet cap, placing the setter on the rivet post, and striking the setter to set the river in place. Rivets come in a variety of styles and sizes for use across most leather-joining applications and projects.

It is really easy to get the hang of riveting leather once one gets the hang of it. Initially, I was confused about what to put where and how to make the finished pieces look great. After a few tries, it was really fun and successful. Let’s explore.

How to Rivet Leather

Rivets are helpful fastening mechanisms for many types of leather projects. To rivet leather, one typically:

1. Creates a hole in the leather using a punch

2. Inserts the appropriate diameter rivet post into the top of the hole

3. Secures the rivep cap on the bottom of the hole (usually resting within an anvil)

4. Places a rivet setter over the rivet post

5. Strikes the rivet setter to secure the rivet in place

Let’s explore how to rivet using some of the more popular rivet types.

Leather Working Tools - Rivet Set
Leather Working Rivet Set

How to Rivet Leather with Single Cap Rivets

Tools needed:  ⅛” hole punch, small hammer, hard work surface, and concave rivet setter anvil. Single cap rivets are two pieces;a metal stem with a domed cap (post), similar to a mushroom, and a flat circular piece with a short, raised, tubular area (cap).  Rivets come in three main lengths; small, medium, and large.  The diameters are the same for all sizes.  Only the length of the stem changes. 

  1. Create a hole in the piece of leather using an ⅛” punch.  
  2. Single cap rivets only have one decorative end.  Make sure the domed portion of the post is located on the exterior of your project. The rivet post should slide easily into the hole and have enough friction between the rivet and the hole where it will not fall out freely.  The post should extend through the hole no more than ⅛”.  The end of the post is crimped.  
  3. Place cap on the post protruding from the hole and lightly press to engage cap with the crimp.  
  4. With rivet anvil on a hard surface, place domed cap into the concave rivet setter anvil and press down to get good contact between the domed cap and rivet anvil.  
  5. Repeatedly tap cap (fitted onto the crimped post) until it is flush with surface of the leather.  The concave anvil prevents the domed cap from becoming deformed.

Rivets come in a variety of styles and sizes for use across most leather-joining applications and projects.

How to Rivet Leather with Double Cap Rivets

Tools needed: ⅛” hole punch, non-metal hammer, hard work surface, concave rivet setter anvil, and concave rivet setter tool.  Double cap rivets are composed of two pieces;a metal stem with a domed cap (post), similar to a mushroom, and a matching dome piece with a short, raised, tubular area (cap).  Double cap rivets come in five main lengths; from extra-small to extra-large.  Diameters are the same for all sizes.

  1. Create a hole in the piece of leather using ⅛” punch.  
  2. Double cap rivets can be oriented either way since both ends will have a decorative cap.  The rivet post should slide easily into the hole and have enough friction between the rivet and the hole where it will not fall out freely.  The post should extend through the hole no more than ⅛”.  The end of the post is crimped.  Place the cap on the post protruding from the hole and lightly press to engage the cap with the crimp.
  3. With rivet anvil on a hard surface, place the domed cap into the concave rivet setter anvil and press down to get good contact between the domed cap and rivet anvil.  
  4. Place the concave rivet setter tool on top of the exposed cap.  
  5. Press down firmly and repeatedly strike the end of the setter tool gently.  
  6. Periodically check the tightness of the rivet between strikes to determine rivet tightness.  Once both domes are indenting the leather and there is no looseness between the pieces of leather, it is properly set.
Hand Press Rivet and Snap Setter Machine - Leather Rivets - Liberty Leather Goods
Hand Press Rivet and Snap Setter Machine

How to Rivet Leather with Solid Rivets

Tools needed:  Punch, non-metal hammer or maul, solid work surface, diagonal cutters, Rivet and burr setter tool for appropriate rivet, and optional rivet setter anvil (if rivet head is domed).  Solid rivets have either a flat or domed head on top of a solid metal post and a small washer of the same type of metal, called a burr.  Solid rivets generally come in 5 different sizes.  The diameter of the rivet determines the size.  Ensure your rivet and burr setter matches the rivets.  

  1. Create a hole in the piece of leather using punch.  Solid rivets only have one decorative end.  Make sure the flat or domed portion of the post is located on the exterior of your project. The rivet post should slide easily into the hole and have enough friction between the rivet and the hole where it will not fall out freely.  Solid rivets have a minimum length of ¾”, upwards to 1 ¼”, so more of the rivet will extend through the hole.  
  2. Place the burr (washer) over the post extending through hole. 
  3. For dome cap rivets, use a rivet setter anvil to place the rivet head on.  
  4. Set the cap of the post portion of the rivet on a solid work surface.  
  5. On the working end of the rivet and burr setter tool, there is a deep hole drilled into the end, along with a shallow, concave hole. Slide the rivet and burr setter tool onto the exposed post into the deep hole.  
  6. Press firmly down onto the burr with the tool and tap the other end with a hammer or maul until the rivet post begins to widen out and lock down the burr.  
  7. Using diagonal cutters, cut off exposed portion of post, leaving about 1/16”.  
  8. Use the concave portion of the rivet setter to smooth down the rough edges by placing it over the cut end of the post and striking with a hammer. 
  9. Optionally, one can lightly tap the exposed post, once set, to give it a rustic look.

Check out this helpful video to better understand how to set two basic types of rivets.

Related Insights

How to Remove a Rivet from Leather

The best way to remove a rivet from leather is to cut one of the ends off using diagonal cutters.  

  1. Either place masking tape or a thin piece of plastic near rivet to help protect the leather.  
  2. Slowly wedge the tips of the cutters between the leather and the rivet head. 
  3. When cutters are engaged with the rivet post, squeeze the cutter handles.  
  4. One may have to maneuver the cutters to several different positions on the post in order to fully cut the rivet.  

How to Use a Rivet Gun on Leather

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Create a hole in the leather for appropriate diameter pop rivet. Place rivet in hole from the top of the project, place rivet gun over exposed stem. Begin squeezing handle on gun until rivet is securing leather.  The rivet gun may not have enough pressure to “pop” the stem off.  In this case, clip exposed stem using diagonal cutters.  

How to Rivet Leather by Hand

The best way to rivet by hand is to create hole in leather using a punch, insert rivet post through hole.  

  1. For single and double capped rivets, ensure no more than ⅛” of post is protruding through leather.  
  2. Using an anvil, if rivet head is domed, and rivet setter, if cap is domed, along with a hard work surface, lightly tap cap with a hammer until cap is fully seated in leather.

How to Use a Rivet Press on Leather

This is how one would rivet leather on a hand rivet press.  

  1. Create a hole in the leather using a punch.
  2. Load the appropriate dies into the top and bottom of the rivet press.  
  3. Load rivet post into top die, load cap into bottom die.  
  4. Pull handle on press to properly set the rivet.

Working with leather hardware, especially rivets, can add a very stylish and effective element to finished goods and items. It’s always great to have some around the shop, and if done by hand, or with a press, they are a fast, strong, and effective way to join leather wonderfully. 

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